September 2013 archive

Shelf Help: How to Make Working from Home Work For You

| Journalism, Uncategorized

shapeimage_6Are you a full time, part time or ‘whenever I have free time’ writer? Chances are you work, or try to,  from home. This should be right up your hallway… Here’s a link to a guest post I wrote for the writing and self publishing site Shelf Help about how to make working from home work for you:

http://www.bengalley.com/BenGalley.com/Writing_Advice/Entries/2013/9/24_HOW_TO_MAKE_WORKING_FROM_HOME_WORK_FOR_YOU.html

Good luck with your writing. Keep going!

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Impulse Buy: Clarks’ Mushroom Brogues

| Impulse Buy

Mushroom brogue

Shoe alert!! Shoe alert!! After 6 months of being confined to my trainers due to dodgy feet/knees/everything I am finally breaking free from the sportswear. And in true back to school style, I’ve been shopping at Clarks (old skool). My former designer-shoe-obsessed-self shed a little tear, but my feet breathed a sigh of relief. Because, this stylish pair of Hamble Oak Mushroom brogues are super comfy. They have a soft weave sole (read: they don’t rub or give you blisters), they’re sturdy and waterproof and I can fit my oh so sexy orthotics in them. Once my feet are in them you’ll never know they’re from Clarks (unless you read this blog). They look great with this season’s pink, and I love the name ‘Hamble’. I’ll be happily hambling around in these over the coming months.

Clarks’ Hamble Oak Mushroom brogues cost £54.99 and are available to purchase here.

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Impulse Buy: White Topshop Shoulder Embellished Jumper

| Impulse Buy

 Jumper

I’m currently in Canada on holiday (get me), and I snapped up this jumper as part of my vacation wardrobe. This is what I call a go-to jumper. You go-to dinner in it. You go-to a bar in it. The embellished shoulder detail (oh so flattering, draws your eye up and away from your maple pancake bloated tummy) elevates this top from day to eveningwear. I’m styling mine out with tailored black shorts and shiny black brogues – like a Chanel schoolboy (but with more pancakes). Canadian mountain chic. Sweet.

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Topshops‘ white embellished jumper cost £46.00.

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London Fashion Week Special: Avoid a Fashion Week FROW Pas

| Uncategorized

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In the ten years I spent working as a fashion industry minion I witnessed many a “Oh FROW you didn’t!” cringey moment. If you find your bum hovering over the holy ground of catwalk shows, you better know how to style it out. Follow my top tips to survive and thrive front row at fashion week:

1. The Long and Short of It. 

There’s a distinctive auburn haired A-List superstar, who’s spun a whole career out of her flowing tresses. Shame that famous mane isn’t her natural colour. How do I know? Micro skirt. Front row. No knickers. She’s lucky the fashion industry has more class than to take an up the skirt shot. We’ll just gossip about it for years instead. Remember you will be sat down with people staring at you: dress appropriately. And wax.

2. The Hot Seat.

If you’re planning on pinching a front row pew and brazening it out, make sure you don’t pick the one reserved for Anna Wintour. Career suicide. I heard the young fashionista who broke this golden rule is now working on a Gloucestershire goat farm. Nobody survives the Nuclear Wintour. Bye bye fashion.

3. Recycle.

A FROW frequenter will empty their goodie bag of what they want – usually the mineral water with all those hot lights – and ditch the rest. Clinging to freebies like a grinning loon is a clear sign you’re above your seat station. Those knee-deep in VIP goodie bags don’t give a Scott’s fig and hazelnut dressing about a free lipstick. A true FROW pro will give their stash to their assistant, or leave it for the fashion students who sneaked in the back. It’s the charitable thing to do. Those students have probably been interning for free for months, they could really benefit from that organic make up: they could eat it.

4. Don’t Grin and Bear It.

Have you seen Anna Wintour smile on the front row? Victoria Beckham? Olivia Palermo? No, that’s because these ladies are professionals. The FROW is their rightful throne. They may allow a slight upward curl of their lip. The hint of a pout. That’s it. Forget taking that selfie. Fashion is serious business, people. Showing your teeth is for the dentist. Smile and you mark yourself out as an overexcited amateur. Plus it gives you face wrinkles.

5. You Old Bag.

Don’t waste a seat on your handbag. I watched a popstar do this once. Nestling their £10k treasure sac into the adjoining seat. The PRs went into meltdown, as they tried to decide who would be bumped from the front row for a bag. Ripples of shock ran through the room. One less seat is one less ticket. Fashionistas loved the handbag, but hated the popstar.

6. A Wee Issue.

Don’t let your dog wee on the catwalk. I saw some diva dogs in my fashion time; bulldogs flown business class, pugs put up in 5 star hotel suites, and chauffer driven Chihuahuas. But I’ve never seen anything quite so distasteful as a pooch peeing all over the runway as a show started. Two of the models slid in it. Catwalk carnage. Forget the puppy, the owner needed to be on a tighter leash.

7. Tweet Dreams.

You made it front row. You are a fashion goddess among mere matching outfit mortals. Own it, baby. Tell the world. Tweet. Post. Share. Though keep it humble, yeah. No one likes a bragger.

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London Fashion Week Special: My Style Icons

| Uncategorized

As our attention is turning to London Fashion Week and our designers’ inspiration, I felt it was a good moment to talk icons. Onstage at a recent event I was asked who my style icons were. It’s a question I’ve never consciously thought about, and in the glare of eager fashionista readers’ eyes I panicked. My mind went blank. I mentally grasped for someone. Anyone. I think I said Anne Hathaway.

Anne Hathaway is very nicely turned out. She carries off her post-Fantine, ‘I sold my hair and body to feed my starving child’ haircut with the kind of aplomb few mortals could manage. She rocks monochrome better than a penguin. But, after years of working the fashion industry, I know it’s not really her who’s the style icon. Behind her look will be a team of personal shoppers, a stylist, hairdressers, make up artists, designers who will send her freebies (I’m looking at you, Karl). She will have learned the tricks of the trade after spending years being professionally tweaked and photographed.

I might be wrong. Anne Hathaway may be the exception among the ruling celebrities. By odds, there should be one or two who truly possess innate style. I’m fairly certain Kate Moss is one. Then again, she was immersed in the fashion industry at the age of fourteen. She literally grew up fashionably. But, Kate aside, I never really view those who frequently appear in the pages of the glossy magazines as my style icons. I may think: nice dress, great shoes, I wish I had your dentist. But I won’t ever consciously ape their style. It’s too constructed, too professional, too artificial. So who does inspire me? Away from the glare of the stage lights this is actually a very easy question to answer, because I draw wardrobe inspiration from so many, many people and sources. Here are just three of them:

Frida Kahlo

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Those who are not familiar with either the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, or her revolutionary self-portraits, often focus on one thing when they first see an image of her. The unibrow. Oh yes, Frida was blessed with an abundance of facial follicles. But rather than reach for the early 20th century equivalent of Immac, she embraced and celebrated the unique angle her beauty took (there’s a lesson for us all there).  An intelligent and vibrant woman, and a key campaigner for Mexican freedom, she suffered with ill health all her life following an accident in her teens. It didn’t stop her enjoying countless and scandalous (in the eyes of society) love affairs with Diego Rivera, Leon Trotsky, and Josephine Baker, among others. Frida was a strong, beautiful woman at ease with herself. Whether you feel she’s in need of a decent pair of Tweezermans or not, you can’t fail to be inspired by the flowers she piled into the tower of her hair, the rich, embroidered textiles she wrapped round herself in the form of long multi-coloured skirts and scarves, and the heavy necklaces she layered over high necked shirts and patterned tops. Her artistic talent is showcased in her everyday apparel: she was a walking work of art.

Coco Chanel

Coco-with-dog Photo credit: http://dareensfashioncolumn.blogspot.ca/2012/02/story-4-legendary-coco-chanel.html%5B/caption%5D

Not Chanel the brand – though I’ll take it if you’re offering – but Coco Chanel the person. Away from the quilted suits, and the multi-million pound ad campaigns, and the Lagerfeld extravaganzas, you’ll find the bewitching raw style of the young off-duty Coco. Many of the most endearing looks that are now cornerstones of the modern fashion industry, were worn and trialled by her first. She borrowed extensively from her own style, to create bestsllers for others. Coco was a master of effortless cool, long before Mossy was a twinkle in Croydon’s eye. Her off duty look is relaxed, comfortable, and flawless. As if she’s just grabbed the nearest item of clothing, and notched it artfully with a belt. In the photo above it’s conceivable she’s borrowed every item  from a male friend. But, oh la la does it work! She’s even accessorised with a dog: truly ahead of the pack. Coco instinctively understood the impact of personal brand. Once again, a commercial concept eons ahead of her time. She was her best advert.

Margot Leadbetter

 

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Ok, Margot isn’t strictly a real person, and therefore falls perilously close to the artifical style I dismissed in my opening paragraphs. But what an artificial style! What a creation! The snobbish suburban neighbour in the 1970s sitcom The Good Life, Margot is a comic foil to the a self sufficient Barbara Good who lives next door. While Barbara’s all old men’s cable knit jumpers and patched jeans, Margot is quintessential brash seventies kitsch. Flowing jumpsuits, floral kaftans with matching headscarves and acres of beads, I cannot deny she is a perennial style favourite of mine. I have a whole section of my wardrobe dedicated to 70s vintage that I particularly enjoy rocking at Home Counties dinner parties. Margot would be proud.

True style isn’t about designer labels, or how much money you spend on your clobber, it’s about letting your personality and creativity beam from your apparel. Inspiration for an outfit can come from anywhere: Blackadder’s Prince George’s frilly shirts and britches, the tonal shades of Autumn leaves, or the shape of a Teletubby. The more unusual the better. Your clothes project your personality, and no one wants to be generic or, worse, forgettable. Stand out. Fangirl your dressing up heroes. Embrace your loves. And if you feel brave, share your own favourite style icons below.

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Review: Retreats For You, Writers’ Retreat, Sheepwash, Devon

| Days Out, Hotel and B&B Reviews

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Working in the window, as you do.

Full disclosure: this is the seventh (I think) time I’ve stayed with Deb and Bob in their writers’ retreat in Sheepwash, Devon. This is less of a review and more of a serious gush. The thing is, this is a very special place.

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One of the bedrooms in Retreats For You.

I first discovered Retreats For You when I was looking for a retreat that spoiled me. I didn’t want to stay in solitude in a rental cottage, because I knew I’d spend all my time sourcing food options and distracting myself on the internet – kind of like I do at home. I also didn’t want structured classes (though one-on-ones with Deb are available and there are often relaxed readings in the evenings). I wanted to write with no distractions. Deb and Bob provide breakfast, lunch and dinner, which means no meal planning or procrastinating trips to Tesco. They also actively discourage (nay, slap your wrist) if you try and tidy anything away. Deb nips in and makes your bed in the morning. AND she’ll do your washing if you wish. Their motto, oft repeated sternly if you’re approaching the washing up bowl, is ‘you are here to write.’ Sodding marvellous.

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Sheepwash village square.

The retreat is in a gorgeous wattle and daub, thatched cottage overlooking a village square in the middle of rural Devon. As I live in a hermetically sealed new build which has a constant tropical clime, I always pack plenty of woolly jumpers and make use of the plug-in radiator in each room. You get your own room, no sharing (though there are double rooms and a twin should you wish to bring a buddy).

Each room is simply furnished, clean, with fresh white bed linen and towels, a desk, a lamp, tea and coffee making facilities (and a hairdryer and slippers and a dressing gown – that’s the kind of detail I like to know!). There are a maximum of 5 rooms, so a maximum of 5 other writers to convene with over mealtimes. There are two shared bathrooms, which are well stocked with beautifying goodies. During all the times I’ve stayed there’s never been more than a 5 minute wait for the bathroom. And even that was a rare occurrence. I guess each person has their own rhythms and they don’t tend to overlap.

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Strolling by the local river.

Meals can be taken in your room if you’re gripped by the muse, or don’t fancy chatting. I always eat downstairs with the others, as I enjoy the supportive and stimulating environment a group of writers creates. I also find the return to the rooms after meals, and the air of productivity that indicates, propels me in a vaguely boarding school fashion to my desk. Everyone else is working, so I should be working too. It’s fantastically effective. My word count is always ridiculous at the end of each stay.

When the weather’s nice meals are taken in the garden. If you’re lucky a trip to nearby Cornwall and a barbecue on the beach may be in order one evening. Included in the cost of your stay (bed, full board, and all that tidying up) is  wine (really, you got to love this place!). Each evening I adore savouring a glass or two of plonk in front of the roaring fire, which is lit every night in the lounge. Make sure you try Deb’s famous flapjacks, which are available for snacking on throughout the day. Trust me, they’re not to be missed. A separate TV room is available for those who want it, and Deb always has an interesting selection of films from Love Film to peruse.

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Bed linen drying in the garden.

It’s worth noting most mobile phones don’t work in Sheepwash. To be honest this is a blessed relief (there’s a landline should you need to make or receive calls). There is Wi-Fi throughout the house, but I stick my out of office on and focus on the task at hand. It’s funny given how dependent I am on all my techy gadgets how I never miss them here.

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Barbecue at Northcott Mouth beach, Cornwall.

 

Isabelle, a local therapist can be booked for beauty treatments at the house. I always have a massage or two to keep my shoulders and back in good working order, before lolling in my pjs in front of the fire. I love that fire!

 

 

At the retreat I keep the kind of schedule I’d love to maintain at home. I rise early, I bash out plenty of words, I eat healthily, I enjoy a daily stroll through the surrounding fields or along the river, I have interesting and inspiring conversations round the fire at night and I retire early. I come away with masses of words under my belt, AND I feel rested. I told you it was a special place.

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Further details and booking information about Retreats For You can be found here.

With thanks to @geowriter and Retreats For You for images 1, and 2, 3, 5 and 6, respectively (my camera corrupted and I lost half my photos).

 

 

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Books Are My Bag Launch Party

| Events

 Bag

I love books. And I love bookshops. When I’m stressed, when I’m sad, when I’ve got writers’ block, I head to a bookshop and I breathe. Then I buy as many tomes as I can carry. But it seems I’m a dying breed. Books, and the shops selling them, are under threat. Hence I found myself at the star-studded launch of the nationwide movement to champion bookstores – Books Are My Bag – masterminded by Maurice Saatchi.

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Kathy Lette and I *screams*.

Showing their support were, among others, Rachel Johnson, Sebastian Faulks and Kathy Lette – who I threw myself at in a wine fuelled fangirl move. It was a perfect meet your heros moment: Lette was warm and friendly, her razor sharp wit matched only by her razor sharp style. Megaswoons.

Then things got serious with the speeches. Stepping up to the podium to speak in favour of the written word were Patrick Neale, President of The Booksellers Association and bookshop owner, Gail Rebuck, Chair of Penguin Random House, and Lord Maurice Saatchi, of the M&C Saatchi.

Neale opened by telling the audience that, in the last ten years bookshops have been closing in the UK at the rate of one a week. Rebuck asserted bookshops are of great social importance and the lifeblood of our culture. Saatchi explained the iconic Books Are My Bag bags are to be human shields against the destruction of the bookshops. A bag carrying army of 100,000 book lovers will become walking adverts to the joy of books. I hope, down to my bones, it works.

Gail

Gail Rebuck delivers an impassioned pro-bookshop speech. 

Much as this was a joyous and entertaining event to attend, it had an important message at its heart. Saatchi put it best when he quoted his late wife, author Josephine Hart, “Reading was a route map through life.” We all need a little guidance now and then. Books offer us so much more than simply paper and ink. Let’s not let them disappear from our nation’s landscape. Get yourself down a bookshop – it’ll change your life (and theirs).

Further details about the Books Are My Bag campaign, including how you can get involved, can be found here.

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